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Sacred Sites of Orkney

 

 

 

The stones of Stenness [01] (https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/stones-of-stenness-circle-and-henge/)  are on a neck of land between Loch Harray and Loch Stenness, [01b] near the main road from Stromness to Kirkwall. These enormous [02] standing stones are around 5,500 years old and include a hearth stone [03] where it is thought sacrifices were made. 

Near to them is the remains of a village [04] where the stones’ erectors are thought to have lived. Their houses [04a] had several hearths in each, suggesting people lived communally rather than in single families. The people are thought to have come from Europe bringing with them the flourishing Orkney vole [05] the nearest genetic relative of which lives in the Netherlands. Near to the stones is an impressive burial mound, now known as Maeshow (https://goo.gl/maps/eaxhbzdFgXbTvsEh9).

 

 

 

On a hillock overlooking the Lochs [06], is the Ring of Brodgar (https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/ring-of-brodgar-stone-circle-and-henge/), a circle of 36 stones built around 2,500 BCE [07]. They are thought to have been the centre of a religious cult for centuries [08]. They pre-date Stonehenge in England [08a] and are thought to have led to its construction. 

 

 

 

The Ring of Brodgar is a popular stop for tourists  including coach parties that come over for the day [10] by ferry from John O’ Groats or from the cruise liners that stop in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney.

 

 

In Kirkwall is a Christian sacred site, St Magnus Cathedral (https://www.stmagnus.org/ ) [12]. Founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald, the Viking in honour of his uncle, the martyred St Magnus [13]. There is still a strong Viking/ Norwegian influence in Orkney, as the Orkney flag shows [13a]. The Cathedral is built of rich, red-coloured sandstone, [14] with narrow beautifully decorated windows high up to help it defend itself. 

 

 

On the south side of the town is another ‘sacred’ site: the Highland Park distillery. There are two distilleries on Orkney, Scapa and Highland Park, but the latter is the older [15]. We were allowed to photograph in the old drying room for the barley [16] (which comes from the Black Isle, not from Orkney) [17] and in the mash room, but not in the still room [18] even though they were not distilling that day, risk of fire – or so we were told! However, we got to see the barrel storage [19]. 

 

Our final ‘sacred’ site, [20] south of Kirkwall was a wash out. Thick mist covered the causeway/barrage that links Mainland Orkney to South Ronaldsay and the ferry to John O’Groats. It was built during the Second World War to protect Scapa Flow naval base but is still used for road traffic today.

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